DOWNBEAT

by Peter Margasak 

Reedist Klaus Ellerhusen Holm is one of the most curious and probing improvisers within Norway’s bustling creative music scene. He plays in the stylistically elusive trio Ballrogg and he’s worked with bassist Ingebrigt Håker Flaten and the improvising quartet Muringa, among others, but nothing has revealed the full range of his ideas like this wonderful little album by his quintet Honest John.

Aside from the unusual, chamber-like timbre created by his excellent group—thanks largely to the brittle banjo tones and fluid electric guitar sound of Kim Johannesen and the astringent, virtuosic violin playing of Ole-Henrik Moe—his compositions tackle a diverse array of gambits, beginning with the spiky, wide-open forms of the roiling “Laacs” and closing with the driving “Raclette/Hollandsk Calypso,” part of which tips its hat to the vibrant Dutch jazz scene, buoyantly injecting a Caribbean lilt in a manner similar to how Amsterdam musicians borrow from South African kwela. The rhythm section of bassist Ola Høyer and drummer Erik Nylander provides an exceptionally fluid foundation for the jagged arrangements and heady interactions between the front line. Honest John moves easily between conventional jazz solos and absorbing explorations of color.

The title track opens with terse clarinet pops and snorts, short and strident violin double-stops, and gnarled banjo chords over the coolly simmering machinations of the rhythm section before a loping groove and sleek melody emerges, while “Ab Vibb” begins with a long-tone blend of upper-register clarinet and guitar feedback before unfolding into a stately martial dance of contrapuntal melody. Holm has a clear affection for the sort of corkscrewing melodic lines of both Henry Threadgill and Tim Berne, but the instrumental makeup and the rhythmic feel at play are unique to Honest John. Canarie is one of the best debuts I’ve heard in a few years.